***This was originally posted by me to Reddit about an hour ago. It was written mainly because (around 6 weeks ago) a member of r/Leafs called me a "bandwagon fan" and I was downvoted by nearly everyone for voicing what I thought was a valid opinion. His ignorant assumption rattled me for weeks, so I finally decided to elaborate on my comment as well as voice some of my other thoughts about our recent downfall.
After one of our best starts in years, with a team that looked like contenders for a deep playoff run, the Leafs have been on an unfortunate down spiral and are 7-14 since Nov. 1. While still relatively early in the season, they now find themselves a game away from losing their hold on the 8th and final playoff spot and have been consistently playing like a low level team. You could argue the Leafs have been plagued with injuries, having lost two of their top forwards Bolland, and Bozak for extended periods, and Lupul constantly being in and out of the lineup, but we all know injuries are part of the game and good teams always find a way to fight through them. It's no doubt that when we return to a healthy lineup we should be a better team, that being said this is not an acceptable reason for our especially poor play over the past 6 weeks. In my opinion, I believe our core problem right now lies within our coaching & management, but primarily with how Carlyle has handled the roster so far this season.
A few weeks back I was panned on Reddit, and called a "bandwagon fan" for commenting how I thought Carlyle shouldn't mess with a good thing and that I didn't approve of him putting Nikolai Kulemin back in the lineup, after recovering from an injury. I have never been too high on Kulemin, and even though I understand his role is a defensive/checking forward I just don't see how a team that considers Kulemin a 2nd or 3rd liner could also consider themselves an elite team. It's hard for me to imagine his name ever making it on to a cup, unless that is he is playing on a 4th line and receiving minimal ice-time. He has never been anything more than average for us and after an 11-4 record without him in the lineup, we have now gone 7-14 since his return. By no means am I saying Kulemin is solely, or even primarily responsible for our huge drop off, but I think that Carlyle definitely made a mistake by breaking up the chemistry we had going, and this was a contributing factor to our meltdown.
Another problem I have with the coaching and management was also deemed quite unpopular on Reddit, this problem is our goaltender situation. Obviously my issue here is not that our goalies haven't played well. In fact, both Bernier & Reimer should be credited as the main reason we are not sitting at the bottom of the standings right now. We are allowing a staggering 36.2 shots against per game and our two goalies have clearly been the backbone of the team. My issue is, that I am still at a loss as to why we even made the trade for Bernier in the first place. Reimer put together a very solid season in 2012/2013 and was hugely improved from the previous year. Come playoff time Reimer was a complete beast! He single-handedly won one or two games for us, showed up to every game, and I would go as far as saying he was our best player in the series. So how does Reimer get rewarded for all of this? Well, he doesn't. In fact he gets punished as Dave Nonis went out and traded for Jonathan Bernier, giving away solid backup goalie Ben Scrivens, and young forward Matt Frattin (who had a very impressive 13pts and +6 rating in 25 games). Bernier, a backup goalie for Los Angeles, had looked to have the potential (and still does) to be an above average, maybe even great starting goalie in the NHL but was being severely underplayed in LA. I was bothered by the deal instantly, confused as to why the Leafs would make a trade for a potential starting goalie, when Reimer should presumably be our go-to-guy. The move initially paid off though as we began the season evenly rotating the two and having both goalies give some great performances. I was still a bit confused as to what our end-game was going to be with this situation, but too blinded by winning and the hot start to care much. Now that we have gone 7-14 since the beginning of November it has gotten beyond irritating that this issue has not been addressed. On top of that, whoever is making the decisions whether it be Carlyle or Nonis has decided to considerably favor Bernier, even though statistically speaking Reimer has been the better goalie. Nonis needs to wake up and trade one of these two guys while their value is still relatively high. Hopefully then we can fill a pretty large defensive void, or at the very least secure some good draft picks to be traded at the deadline or used in the off-season. If Dave Nonis believes the Leafs roster is capable of winning a cup right now than he is on a different planet, and if he doesn't than why is continuing to watch the trade value of both our goalies go down as our team continues this losing skid.
Even though things are starting to look pretty sad for the leafs right now, by no means is the season unsalvageable. I'm a huge believer that when teams face adversity throughout the season it can bring them closer together, and result in a stronger better team as a result. I was hoping we had done just that after our devastating game 7 loss last year. But with injuries and what seems to be a lack of competence from the coach and management we have been set back once more. Bottom line for the Leafs here is that Nonis and Carlyle both need to wake up and start making some changes before this season goes to waste. With one or two roster adjustments the Leafs can fight their way back to being a top team, and if the worst of the injury bug has now hit us, hopefully we can sneak into the playoffs healthy and ready to surprise some teams with an established starting goalie, and roster set to compete, and win.